COLUMN: Social media is reshaping social lives
This past Tuesday, I ate dinner with two friends and watched them duke it out about how one had un-followed the other on Twitter. The victim in this situation was quite offended; she wondered how someone she trusted, someone who was her friend could un-follow her without any thought.
The other guy went on the defensive, stating Twitter was kind of awkward; you know, the whole idea of having “followers” and such.
They carried out their conversation with tongues-in-cheek, but there was definitely an underlying truth beneath the argument about the emerging correlation between friendships, relationships and social networking sites.
Similarly, another friend of mine recently went on hiatus from Facebook. As soon as she hid her profile, she started getting calls and text messages from worried friends. They wanted to know if she was still alive. They were making sure that she was OK. They wanted to be assured that they were still friends, and that she hadn’t deleted them because of some grudge she was holding.
Again, the truth became more and more evident. Social networking sites are changing the way we communicate and live our lives. Facebook, Twitter, Foursqaure, blogs and video logs are quickly becoming seamless extensions of our lives.
Social networking sites have changed the way we meet people. I was talking to yet another friend who had gathered various tidbits of information about a guy he knew he would be meeting soon. This is just one example of how sites make it possible for people to know a great deal of information about us before they even see us face to face.
It is the same in the job market. We all know employers are likely to look at our Myspaces, Facebook accounts and other Internet footprints to determine if they want to hire us or not. You may be meeting a employer for the first time, but they already know a lot about you, and they expect you to have researched them as well.
Social networking sites have changed the way we start friendships and relationships. There is a degree of friendship that isn’t reached until we have become friends with that person on Facebook, or started following them on Twitter.
It feels weird when you’ve known someone for a long time and then realize one day that you aren’t friends on Facebook. It’s like someone dropped the ball.
Furthermore, couples don’t become official until the relationship status is changed on Facebook. Admit it, we’ve all waited with bated breath when we believe that people we know have started dating, to see that status change from “single” to “in a relationship.” “Civil Union” and “Partner” statuses have recently been added so that people living alternative lifestyles can also express their relationships. Why? It is because social networks are now an extension of our daily lives.
Social networking sites also affect the way we frequent places. Facebook and Foursquare have features that allow people to “check-in” at the places they visit, letting all their friends and family know exactly where they are and what time they are there. Now, we never have to wonder where our friends are at any given moment.
These are only a few aspects of our lives that have changed due to social networking. The ripples and effects could be listed for pages and pages.
Let it be said that I’m not against social networking sites. I am all for them, especially since I am pursuing a profession in mass media. Blogging, tweeting and Facebooking may be the only way I get my voice heard amidst all the chaos.
Furthermore, social networks have enabled us to keep in contact like never before, gaining and keeping acquaintances and friends across distances, borders and time with the simple click of a button.
Still, it is important to be aware of the future consequences of our Internet activities. There needs to be active thought into how much privacy we will reserve for ourselves and what parts of our lives we are willing to expose. It is also important to leave Internet footprints behind cautiously. We never know when a bad decision will hurt us later. Furthermore, the implications of people knowing about us without meeting us have yet to fully be seen.
Protecting a degree of privacy in our lives and maintaining the organic quality of our relationships should be one of our central goals in this era of emerging cyberspace. We have to resist the urge to judge all our relationships by the computer screen and remember that social networking is only an extension of our life, not the totality of it.
— Jelani Sims, religious studies and professional writing senior